Monday, December 23, 2013

'Twas the Month after NaNo

by Jemi Fraser

‘Twas the month after NaNo and all through the lands,
Writers were massaging cramps out of their hands.
The stories were resting all snug in their files,
Hoping to one day bring readers some smiles.
The writers were exhausted, brain-dead and worn out,
Only raising their heads when others bothered to shout.
Fed up children and spouses fought for attention,
But writers only used that as fodder to increase the tension.
“It’s December!” they shouted, “It’s time for St. Nick,
You have to prepare and you have to be quick!”
Lifting their heads from desks with the blurriest of eyes,
The writers considered a multitude of lies.
But writers are persistent, hard-working and smart,
As one they declared, “It’s past time to start!”
With NaNo as practice, they outlined their chores,
Drafted their lists and headed out their front doors.
They searched and they shopped and they bought and they wrapped
They baked and they cooked and they prepped and they napped.
Like good ol’ St. Nick, they enlisted their crew,
With NaNo as training, there’s not much they can’t do!
Writers finished their lists with extra time on their hands,
And thoughts turned to NaNo with revisions and plans.
The story was settling, marinating with time,
With lots of revisions it soon would be prime.
So the chaos of the season has its own special gift,
Allowing the story to simmer and ideas to sift.
For great writers know without any doubt,
Stellar stories never follow the easy, short route.

So enjoy all the chaos and family and fun,
Give weary brains a rest and get other things done.
Sit back and enjoy the season shining so bright,
Merry Christmas to all and to all a good write!

(With apologies to Clement Moore and the wonderful folks at NaNoWriMo!)

Here at From the Write Angle, we're going to take the rest of the week off to enjoy some of that shining season with our friends and families. We hope each and every one of you find something wonderful to celebrate this season! Best wishes to all!

Jemi Fraser is an aspiring author of contemporary romance who is currently emerging from a NaNo coma. She blogs and tweets while searching for those HEAs along with a gingerbread cookie or two.

Friday, December 13, 2013

5 Ways to Make Author Friends

by +Jean Oram

It's easy for people to hide behind their monitor and use their keyboard to pillage online. Pillage information from others. Hurt feelings--intentional or not. Make others feel 'less than' for whatever reason.

But being online is also an excellent way to make friends, network, find cheerleaders (the personal encouragement kind…although I'm sure it is possible to find other kinds), cross promote, learn from others, share information, and so much more.

If you've been online awhile you've likely run into people who only pop up to be friends when they want to drain your brain of info you've worked hard to accumulate. And as soon as you have a whiff of success they are going to appear--trust me. You will also run into people who like to take but not give and wig right out when you offer to do them a favour--no strings attached. It's a weird, weird world and people and their actions are so much more transparent online.

But really, this post is about how to make friends online. How to make those connections that result in getting you and your work out there. In being someone people want to know and interact with online--and not avoid. In becoming someone people want to help out. In other words: how not to be a douche.

How to Make Friends Online

1. Be Interesting and Chat

I know. Seems kind of basic, but take a peek around. How many people are 'friends' one week (often when they need something) and then vanish?

Chatting is basic. Check in. Say hi. Reply to their online content. Share their stuff.

And those annoying posts on Facebook where you mask bragging about how awesome/shitty/amazing/thrilling/envious/whiny your life it? Those have to go. Now. Show me, don't tell me. Make it something others can CHAT with you about. Would you walk up to your friend and say: I am so in love with my husband. [Full stop.] Uh, not likely. So why would you say that online? Try something that would engage your friend and allow her/him an opportunity to join the conversation. (That's right…conversation.) In real life you might say: My hubby rocks. He shovelled the driveway for me. What do you think I should get him as a way of saying I love you? Instant conversation.

2. Be Helpful

Want to make friends who can mentor you? Share info? Be helpful. Share what you know (even if it feels small beans)--if they are open to it. And don't start the conversation with "Do me a favour and fix your website." Be kind. Be gentle. See if they want help. People who give are happier and find others want to help them in return.

However, don't be doormat. Got it? It's an online world. Be smart. Be safe. Don't fall for sob stories unless you are okay with being 'taken.'

3. Don't Be a Taker

If you are going to waste someone's time asking for advice (remember you are taking time away from them earning a livelihood) acknowledge the advice. Don't brush it off. Don't be a bitch. Don't argue. You asked. Listen. And don't come to them in a panic when you haven't done your homework. When you have a deadline you ignored. When you didn't listen to their advice the first time and did something plain and simply DUMB.

And for eff's sake, don't email someone for advice so you can turn around and sell it to someone else. (True story.)

Say thank you. And mean it.

4. Cross Promote

Share the author love. Not only is it AMAZING when it works out, but it really shows you what other authors are made of when you promote their stuff. Yes, some will ignore you as they don't know how to take the generosity. Others will become your helpful friend. Others will return the favour with interest. Big lesson here: cross promotion, when done right, works. So make TRUE friends with people in your genre. Do it now. (Well, finish reading this post first.)

5. Share

Yes, there are takers. Yes, some people will not value your knowledge--unless you charge them for it. (Crazy, but true.) But share. Share other good books with your readers. Share what you know--I'm not saying you have to give away your trade secrets to takers. And share the spotlight. Be kind. Pretend you are in kindergarten.

Now that you've looked at how to be an online friend from the write angle, tell me how you've been dazzled lately? And let us learn from what you've experienced as well. Thanks for reading.

Jean Oram is a formerly agented author who has gone the indie route with her Blueberry Springs romance series. Champagne and Lemon Drops is FREE and Whiskey and Gumdrops is her latest release. She's also traditionally published short stories, magazine and newspaper articles. You can find Jean dishing writing tips once a week at and having conversations with readers at You can follow her on Twitter--she's @jeanoram.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Movin' On Up

by R.S. Mellette

Anyone who knows me, knows I’m a huge Dr. Who fan – have been since the Tom Baker days.  Back in the 1980s I ran into some Brits who worked for the BBC, so naturally the Doctor came up.  They laughed at the American fan base, saying, “That show is made by newbies for kids.  It’s like a training ground for the BBC.”

For some reason, that comment always stuck with me.  The idea of a farm league for the entertainment industry was attractive for a Theatre Major.  A place where one could prove their worth, improve their game, and transition into the majors – all while being paid.  Where could I find such a program in the US?

Sure, there are some internships.  You can work as an assistant in a related field, hoping to crossover from admin to production – but there’s nothing like stepping up to the plate with your peers and swinging the bat well to prove you can… step up to the plate with your peers and swing the bat well.

Thanks to the digital revolution, the publishing industry might be on their way to developing a farm league.

Independent publishing – not to be confused with Vanity Publishing, which is a whole different game – used to mean a few books, limited to a specific micro-genre, sold in a handful of stores.  As we all know, the One Great Book Store that is the Internet, has changed all of that.  Independents now play on the same field as the Majors.  Sure, they don’t always get the press coverage unless they develop a superstar.  That means they don’t get the same reviews, or the same kind of sales numbers, but they get them.  And that is something that can be tracked like a batting average.

Independent publishers, like our own Matt Sinclair’s Elephant's Bookshelf, have an opportunity to develop writers; let them prove themselves in the real world.  Projects that are too risky for the corporate structure of the Big Six can find an audience in the indie market, where the Majors can scout their success, look for trends, and find the next big stars.

It all reminds me of the scene in Tom Hanks’s movie That Thing You Do, about a band that hits it big in 1964.  The band is first discovered by a local promoter.  He does such a good job that they are given a record contract from a national company.  You’d think the local promoter would be upset, but his contract is bought out.  He has done his job, and is well-paid.  It’s time for him to scout out the next big hit, and use his relationship with the national company to move them up as well.  The record company is happy.  They have a national hit, with the potential for more.  The band is happy.  They get to quit their day jobs, go on tour, and make the most of this professional opportunity.

Some people see indie vs. traditional publishing as an adversarial relationship, but if both sides keep their wits about them, it can become symbiotic.

R.S. Mellette is an experienced screenwriter, actor, director, and novelist. You can find him at the Dances With Films festival blog, and on Twitter, or read him in the Spring Fevers, The Fall: Tales of the Apocalypse, and Summer's Edge anthologies.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Art, Resonance, and Subjectivity

by MarcyKate Connolly
"Since the one thing we can say about fundamental matter is that it is vibrating and, since all vibrations are theoretically sound, then it is not unreasonable to suggest that the universe is music and should be perceived as such." -Joachim-Ernst Berendt
The above is one of my all time favorite quotes (emphasis mine). It appeals to me on a lot of levels (not the least of which is that I majored in music in college), but I think it explains one fundamentally tricky beast that plagues all artists.


Yes, that word. The one that strikes fear in many hearts, but especially writers. If you’ve been through the query trenches, you’ve most likely heard something along the lines of “this business is subjective” in agent responses. It’s true, and it can suck.

But take heartwhat doesn’t work for one person, may very well resonate with another. 

And that’s the keyword here—resonate. Have you heard the phrase, “That struck a chord with me?” If we think of each novel  (or other creative work) as a note swimming in a sea of other notes, it begins to make a little more sense. If your book is a C, then it isn’t going to jive with the agent or editor who’s resonating at a D flat. But if you find an agent at E or G, you’re on your way to a full chord. 

For those who aren’t familiar with music notation, basically, the first example sounds dissonant, but the second is more harmonious. Point being, just because your C book doesn’t work with the D flat agent doesn’t mean C is bad. It means your C needs a E. 

The same is true with readers. As someone whose book will be out in about a year, reader subjectivity makes me particularly nervous (read: TERRIFIED).  Every person, every reader, resonates on their own note. There’s so many potential ways my book could resonate or jar with readers, that it’s downright scary. If you’ve ever visited Goodreads and taken a gander at any book’s review section, you’ll see what I mean. Subjectivity abounds.  A book may only partially resonate with someone, while it will knock the socks off another. Just remember that it doesn't mean the book itself is necessarily bad—it means it wasn't right for that reader.

So what exactly do I mean by resonance? You know that feeling when you read a book (or hear music, see a work of art) and it tugs at your insides? Ever read a book that you could not put down because you had to know what happened next? Ever had to keep listening to a song over and over because somehow something in it just clicked with you? That is resonance. Art can tear you up and sew the pieces back together in the best of ways. Resonance is when you can feel, sometimes in a physical way, that a book, or song, or painting vibrates on the same wavelength as you. 

And that can change. We grow and our tastes evolve. Our tunes change. What resonated years ago, may not today. Or that same passage in a book or piece of music may floor you every time.  For me, there’s too many books like that to pick just one, but I can tell you the one piece of music that still guts me whenever I hear it—the “Lacrimosa” section of Mozart’s Requiem.  Never fails to give me chills. 

So tell me, what books, or other art, have resonated with you? Share in the comments!

MarcyKate Connolly writes middle grade and young adult fiction and becomes a superhero when sufficiently caffeinated. When earthbound, she blogs at her website and spends far too much time babbling on Twitter. Her debut upper MG fantasy novel, MONSTROUS, will be out from HarperCollins Children's Books in Winter 2015.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Things Non-Writers Don't (Always) Get

by R.C. Lewis

You've been there, right? Someone asks a question or makes a comment about your writing, and you realize they don't get it. How writing a novel works. How agents work. How self-publishing works. How traditional publishing works. They just don't understand. That's part of why writers' communities are so great—they bring you together with people who have some shared experience and knowledge.

To be fair, some non-writers do get it and some writers don't get it all … yet. Another great thing about such communities—we can always learn more from each other.

Here are a few things where I sometimes hit the "never mind" wall with other people:

  • A novel manuscript has to be complete before you try to sell it.

  • Being complete doesn't mean it's done. Selling to a publisher doesn't mean it's done. There are rounds of edits yet to come.

  • Working with an editor doesn't mean just cleaning up commas and typos. Not at first, and not for a long time.

  • Revisions can be a messy, big, creative process. Big-picture stuff isn't just adding a word here and deleting one there.

  • Traditional publishing is a REALLY LONG PROCESS.

  • What query letters are. Why they're used. Anything about how agents work.

  • To all my students: No, I will not sell you copies of my book at cost, nor will I give each of you one for free. Yes, it's because I'm mean. Same reason I give you homework.

How about you? What makes you run to your writer-friends because you know they'll understand?

R.C. Lewis teaches math to teenagers—sometimes in sign language, sometimes not—so whether she's a science geek or a bookworm depends on when you look. Her debut novel Stitching Snow is coming from Disney-Hyperion in Fall 2014. You can find R.C. on Twitter (@RC_Lewis) and at her website.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Gifts for the Writer in Your LIfe

by J. Lea López

We hope our American Write Anglers all had a wonderful Thanksgiving yesterday. But that means we are now officially entrenched in the Christmas shopping season. Or if you're a bit behind on Hanukkah gifts, you can probably find/create some of these things in the next six days. Of course these gift ideas work for birthdays and just-because occasions as well. Who doesn't like a gift now and then? We've put our heads together and come up with some great gift ideas for the writer in your life.

By Ildar Sagdejev via Wikimedia Commons
Tools of the trade 

Writers write. That's what we do. So any of the things we regularly use to do so are always welcome gifts. R.C. recommends things like pens, notebooks, and Post-It notes for excellent stocking stuffers. Personally, I write everything (yes, even novels) longhand first, and then transcribe it, so I always love pens and notebooks. Just make sure they're practical. There comes a point when a beautiful pen or ornate notebook become so pretty I don't want to use them. A big five-subject notebook and a two-pack of gel pens are perfect for me. Keep an eye on what your writer uses and buy those things. If they constantly have notes and outlines all over the place, maybe a giant cork board for their writing nook would be perfect. Or heck, even creating a writing nook for them if they don't have one already is a great idea!

If you're looking for bigger ticket gift ideas in this category, perhaps your writer could use a new laptop or desktop computer, a netbook or tablet with a Bluetooth keyboard for noveling on the go, an e-reader, or a new ergonomic desk chair.

Jemi suggests software or subscription items. Have they been eyeballing writing software like Scrivener? Or if they're gearing up to submit to agents, a premium subscription to Query Tracker is a thoughtful gift. Don't forget sites like Writer's Digest or literary journals and magazines that publish short stories and poetry that you think your writer would enjoy.

I often struggle with thinking of more than the same five basic names over and over again, so something like a big book of baby names would be helpful. If you're a woman giving this gift to your boyfriend or husband who writes, just be careful with your delivery, or they might think they're getting a different holiday surprise! And if you know a writer is working on a particular topic, look for books or reference guides that may be helpful for them, like books about: historical fashion, castles of Ireland, Brazilian cuisine, medieval architecture, and so on.

Homemade coupon books

This was by far the most popular suggestion among the crew this year! I kind of hope I get one from somebody this year. (wink wink, dear husband!) Sophie says:

"If you have a writer in your life he/she is ALWAYS short of writing time. Always. Remember those little coupon books you used to make as a gift for your parents back in elementary school? Make one for your writer. Give him/her a coupon for "One hour of interruption- and child-free writing time" or a coupon saying you will "take the kids to a long movie" or take over some chore/task that would ordinarily fall on said writer's list."

And Mindy adds this caveat:


Jean adds that you can also give coupons for ways that YOU can assist your writer with their writing and business needs if you have the resources/skills, such as ones that say you:

"Will research cover designers and find price. Will go to bank and get information on starting a business account. Or will set you up with a meeting with so-and-so from work so you can chat about legalities of copyright, etc. Or create, fix, build a website. Basically those little things writers feel they should do but put off for ages."

Books! Duh!

By Coyau via Wikimedia Commons
As Sophie says, "Writers are readers too--so a gift card to your local Indie, to B&N or to Amazon will probably be a big hit." And probably the simplest of all: "Buy the writer's book. Seriously. Buy more than one copy to give to others and ask your writer friend/spouse/colleague to sign them. Believe me you will put a huge smile on the writer's face. And let's face it books make great gifts and great stocking stuffers."

In addition to books they might like to read, I say you shouldn't rule out gorgeous coffee table books full of pictures. Waterfalls, planets and stars, portraits, collections of classical art, adorable animals, babies, lightning strikes... sometimes there's nothing like big, vivid imagery to jumpstart a writer's imagination.

And finally, if you're thinking "my writer has too many books already!" maybe what they'd really love is a set of fun bookends or a beautiful bookcase to show off all their treasures.

What are some other gift ideas for writers?

Friday, November 22, 2013

Birth of a Self-Published Print Book

by J. Lea López

It was painful. It was emotional. There were thoughts of "why am I doing this again??" There may have been some crying.

No, I'm not talking about childbirth, I'm talking about book birth.

I've been quiet on the FTWA blog for a bit, partially due to life and partially due to fighting with the formatting for my novel, which I self-published in ebook format at the end of May. This past Sunday, five and a half months after the ebook was published, I submitted the FINAL corrected file for the paperback edition to Createspace to be approved and distributed. I'd researched the digital side of self-pubbing a lot more than the POD side before I released my novel earlier this year. I thought digital would be so much more difficult than print. Boy, oh boy, was I ever wrong.

All I Wanted Was a Font!

I didn't think I was being unrealistic or overly fancy. I wanted a cohesive look to the print book, so I thought it would be nice to use the title font from the book cover as the font for the title page and chapter headings in my book. It's not an ornate font, but it is one that I had downloaded and installed. Here, take a look:
Nothing crazy. But that font caused 90% of the frustration I experienced with my formatting issues. This post isn't specifically about my formatting process or how I overcame this issue (in short, I had to create images of the text for each heading and use a different program to edit the PDF and insert the high-resolution images) but more about how self-publishing means YOU have to deal with every book birthing pain, from the sleepless nights with baby worries on the brain to the smallest of contractions to the aftercare for the episiotomy (if you don't know, don't Google) you'll need when your baby almost literally rips you a new one in the process of trying to make its way into the world.

It was my decision to use this particular font, and it was my months-long headache to deal with when it wouldn't properly embed into the file. It was my stubbornness that wouldn't let me just change the damn font and be done with it. No way. If I was gonna have this baby, I was gonna do it my way.

You Want Me to Decide WHAT?

My ebook was pretty much no-frills, basic formatting, to help ensure a good reading experience across all readers. With a print book, however, there are suddenly a WHOLE LOT of things to consider that I never would have considered before I started the process. And since there is no publisher (but yourself) there's no book designer (but yourself) or typesetter (but yourself). Which can be a lot of fun, but can also be overwhelming.

You'll make decisions that look good on screen but will horrify you once you have a printed proof in your hands. You'll agonize for hours over which font to use for your text. You'll scrutinize everything because you have to. It's like you have this awesome baby and you want to dress it in pretty clothes, put cute bows in its hair and coordinate its outfits with those bibs that have clever sayings. Who knew there were so many choices? Here are some of the things I never would've thought to look for until I saw them:
  • I really like how my name looks in Palatino Linotype, and not so much in other fonts.
  • I didn't like how my entire book looked in Palatino Linotype, so I used something else. Turns out I'm picky about the way lower case a and g look, among other letters.
  • I loved everything about my chosen font (Constantia, 11pt, in case you're wondering) EXCEPT for the way it squished together the G and the A in Gary, the name of one of my characters. So I had to manually adjust the spacing on those two letters for every. single. occurrence.
Damn you, Gary. Damn you.
  • Do I want my chapters to start this far down the page? How about this far? No, maybe this far?
  • Do I want to start every chapter on an odd page, or do I want to continue them immediately on the following page? 
  • Even if no one can agree on what's a widow and what's an orphan, when blogs advise you not to use Word's widow and orphan control, they say that for a reason. DO NOT USE IT!
WTF Microsoft Word! That's hideous!
  • About 50 pages into manually adjusting paragraph spacing to eliminate widows and orphans, I began to question my own tolerance for the buggers. (Hint: I care more about how the tops of pages look than the bottom, and if a sentence extends 3/4 of the way across a page, I'll probably leave it be.)
  • Do I like the copyright page immediately on the back of the title page? Turns out, no. I hate it. Who knew?
  • Do I want my acknowledgments page in the beginning of the book or at the end? (For me, at the end.)
  • My book ends on an even (left-hand side) page. Do I want the acknowledgements on the next odd (right-hand page) or should there be a blank page in between? YES I ACTUALLY DEBATED THIS!
Who Can I Pay to do This? Please, Take My Money!

Hiring out steps you can't or don't want to complete is always an option when you publish on your own. But that presents its own challenges. Where to start looking? How do I know they're good? Where's the fine line between affordability and risking "getting what you pay for"? The few times I started searching the Web for someone to do interior book formatting for print, I was only able to find ebook designers. Plus I didn't want to spend another five or more months researching and vetting (and saving up the cash) for someone to do the job for me. I knew I could figure it out if I just stuck with it. And I did. But boy was it exhausting.

All Hail Traditional Publishing!

Okay, not quite.  You'll never hear me say that one type of publishing is better than the other, although I think some people have been expecting that from me ever since I first expressed enjoying both the self-publishing process and the results I've been getting. I've been having a lot of fun, and I certainly do not mind those royalty checks showing up in my bank account every month. I even surprised myself by formulating a plan to finish and self-publish a WIP that I was previously sure would be THE ONE to land me an agent. I'll do a print version of that one, too, even though it makes me a little nervous. At least now I know to start working on print options long before I did this time around.

But yes, I do still want to go traditional with some future titles, for varying reasons. Honestly, though? Screw the barely-there marketing assistance I might get from a publisher. I don't care if I could possibly get a big advance. Forget about the bookstore placement. At this point, you know what the biggest appeal of traditional publishing is?

A publisher is like a surrogate that will undergo IVF and carry my baby to term, enduring every last physical labor pain to bring it into the world. (Are the birth analogies getting a little weird? They're weird, right? Hang on, we're almost done.) It's my baby, and I love it, and I will care for it once it's born, but giving birth to it just might kill me. A publisher would mean not worrying about font and typesetting and gutters and margins and "holy mother of Garamond how do I get rid of the running headers on the first page of each chapter?!" because they'll do all that for me. Without me having to get out my checkbook. And when it's all over, I'll have a shiny new baby to ooh and ahh over and to hug and love forever and ever.

Bottom line: Just like a parent will tell you the pain of childbirth is "so worth it," I'll say the same about the long process it's taken for me to finish my paperback. It's an amazing sense of accomplishment and I'm excited for my book to be out there (soon) in another format. Will I do it again? Yes. Will I do it differently? Probably. Will I still keep an eye out for that perfect surrogate to birth future babies if I think we'll be a perfect fit? You betcha.

If you're considering self-publishing, I'm not trying to dissuade you. In fact, I'll probably try to encourage you more than anything. But I also want you to stop and think about all the steps there are. Now double the amount of steps. Now imagine completing all those steps on very little sleep while trying to keep the rest of your life under control and also leaving room to deal with the many unforeseen complications that can pop up along the way. Sound like fun? Congratulations! You're ready to birth your very own self-published print book.

If you're a self-publisher, what was your most frustrating part of the publishing process?

J. Lea López is a shy, introverted writer with a secret world of snark and naughtiness inside her head. She writes character-driven erotica and contemporary new adult stories. Her first novel, Sorry's Not Enough, and her free short story collection, Consenting Adults, are available now. She'd love to tweet with you.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

A Case for "Nicer" Villains

by R.C. Lewis

Yeah, read that title again.

Here's what I don't mean. I don't mean antagonists need to ease up on the meanness and be warm and fuzzy by the end of the story. This isn't even about antagonists having a reason—maybe even a sympathetic one—for being how they are. (Although that's not a bad idea.)

There can be as many kinds of villains as there are heroes. Sometimes the straight-up evil kind fits the bill. Voldemort had some lousy childhood moments, but in the end, how many of us feel really feel sorry for him, even a smidgen?

And here's another thing. How many of us genuinely think we'll ever run into a Voldemort in real life?

But there are real villains in the world. Bad ones. They're not 100% evil, with a deformed snaky-face to serve as their membership badge in Club Evil. They're not all psychopaths and sociopaths like you see on crime dramas.

If you ask me, that makes them scarier. We can't look at someone and know that he hits his wife, or that she's emotionally abusive to her son. Wouldn't it be nice if we could? So much easier.

Abusers can show kindness. The "bad guy" can have legitimate "good" traits. It doesn't excuse the evil they do, and I think that's the point in making at least some of our villains nuanced this way. Because otherwise, when real-world villainy happens, victims and third parties alike may think things such as...

"But he's a nice guy, so what happened can't be bad. Not really."

"But she's a good mother, so this must be a mistake."

"But they're all good students. It's not possible they could do something so terrible."

Does any of that sound familiar?

I think perhaps reality-based stories (contemporary, for example) may be better at including some of those shades in their antagonists. More so than speculative genres, anyway. We have more Voldemorts. More mad scientists and megalomaniacs. More extremes.

Maybe we can bring a little more reality to our stories. More dimension to our Big Bad. And help our readers see that all kinds of people can do very, very bad things.

R.C. Lewis teaches math to teenagers—sometimes in sign language, sometimes not—so whether she's a science geek or a bookworm depends on when you look. Her debut novel Stitching Snow is coming from Disney-Hyperion in Fall 2014. You can find R.C. on Twitter (@RC_Lewis) and at her website.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Tips for your Query's Hook

by Jemi Fraser

After my last post on Query No Nos, I had several people ask me about query hooks so I thought I'd focus on that today.

The hook is the first line or short paragraph of your query. (Some agents like to have the 'business' paragraph up front, but I'm not talking about that bit.) The hook's job is to make the agent HAVE to read on. From reading agent blogs and Twitter comments, it seems to me that most agents decide within a few seconds whether or not to read the entire query. That's not a lot of time, so make your hook sparkle!


Include your main character's name (and age if your story is YA or MG).
Use active verbs, especially the first verb of the query.
Stay in chronological order. Don't give away a key point in the hook then backtrack to build to it - way too confusing!
Showcase what's unique about your story.
Keep it short. Long convoluted sentences make for slow reading and that's the last thing you want.


Start with your novel's title - way too tempting to describe the story if you say MY TITLE is...  Pretty soon you'll be telling all over the place.
Use the words 'about' or 'is the story of' or 'follows the adventures of'. Those are sure signs of telling!
Be generic. Make sure something about your hook is unique and that your hook can't match a dozen different stories.

As with everything else in writing, there are no ironclad rules that can never be broken and that holds true for these suggestions. There are always brilliant writers out there who can go against all the 'rules' and make it work!

Do you have any suggestions to add? In your opinion, what makes a good query hook?

Jemi Fraser is an aspiring author of contemporary romance. She blogs and tweets while searching for those HEAs.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Confessions of a NaNo Loser

by Matt Sinclair

So, how is your Nano WriMo novel moving along? We’re just short of midway through November, so if you’re keeping pace, you’re closing in on 25,000 words. Congratulations! Of course, if you’re reading this, perhaps the novel is not going all that well. Don't worry, I won’t chastise you. When I’ve worked on Nano, I’ve barely topped 20,000 words. But that’s ok.

If you’re wondering: no, I don’t feel like a failure. Clearly, I’m not a Nano winner, but I’m not a failure. I’ve used Nano to serve my purposes: to push me to finish the first draft of one novel, to start another – and another after that. I think of Nano as a tool – a rather effective one, if you ask me.

Nano is a great way to spur a writer. It’s a challenging but reachable goal. I’d argue that it’s a better approach to writing a novel than my usual method because it has built-in deadlines and easy to follow progress reports. Another plus is it’s messy.

I like messy. Messy gets words on the paper (or the computer). Messy gets to 50,000 words faster than clean. Professionally, I tend to write clean because I often edit as I go along. That’s inefficient. I know it, yet still I do it. It’s better for you to write, write, write and when it’s time to edit, focus on the editing, the revision.

But everyone has their preferred style. I’m not telling you you’re a bad writer if you tend to fix the typos you plopped into your prose as soon as you notice them. If I reached 20,000 words in Nano, it probably doesn’t show because I edited sections down before moving on. Damned anal-retentive personality!

I suspect most readers here know that topping 50,000 words in Nano WriMo does not mean you completed a novel. It means you met a goal. And a short-term goal at that. Polishing those novels into publishable gold takes time. But it’s worth your while.

Earlier this month, Elephant’s Bookshelf Press published Whispering Minds by A.T. O’Connor. It was conceived during Nano 2009 – four years to the day of its publication, actually. For the month of November, 2009, she wrote 56,000 words in twenty-six days. Not too shabby. In the intervening years, she worked on other things, including some wonderful short stories that also have been published by EBP (which is my company, by the way), but she polished her novel off to become the crown jewel of the young publishing house. Because it wasn't ready in December 2009.

I know from experience that dreams of seeing our books published cross the writers’ minds as we work on our novel, regardless of whether it is a November baby or not. That’s fine. Just don’t think about it too long. You have close to 1,700 words to write today. Good luck!

Matt Sinclair, a New York City-based journalist and fiction writer, is also president and chief elephant officer of Elephant's Bookshelf Press, which recently published its first novel, Whispering Minds. This past summer, it published Summer's Edge and Summer's Double Edge, which are available through Smashwords (SE) (SDE) and Amazon (SE) (SDE), and include stories from several FTWA writers. In 2012, EBP published its initial anthologies: The Fall: Tales from the Apocalypse, (available viaAmazon and Smashwords) and Spring Fevers (also available through Smashwords, andAmazon). Matt blogs at the Elephant's Bookshelf and is on Twitter @elephantguy68.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Your Cover: The Arranged Marriage

by S. L. Duncan

Once upon a time, I wanted to be a filmmaker. It was college, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, but I knew one thing: I gravitated toward storytelling. So while at university, I structured my curriculum around classes that I thought would be beneficial to nurturing whatever creative abilities I could that might help me later on in pursuing my celluloid dream.

It’s a collaborative art, filmmaking. Screenwriters, actors, directors, and even the money – studios, producers, and executives – all pitch in for the end product. I liked that. It was like a community of creative energy.

My life took a detour into The Law, so my dream of being the next Spielberg never manifested, and yet here I am – an author guilty of writing a Spielbergian adventure of a boy born to save the world.

Authors are, by nature, a solitary species. You’ve heard all the clichés, no doubt. But like filmmaking, there actually is a lot of the process that still is very collaborative. Your agent will help guide you along the journey. When your book sells, you’ll have an editor that will hone your words, Obi-Wan Kenobi-style, into the best version of the book you can write. After a lot of work, you’ll send the manuscript off into the ether, and eventually push it into the back of your mind while you await its release date.

And then, one day, probably out of the blue, you’ll be given notice that your cover is ready for your approval.

This is where I am.

Sometime in the next few weeks, I’ll receive a file containing the thing that above all else, will make or break my book’s impact on the reader. And I had nothing to do with it. Authors don’t really have input on what their own covers will be. There are weird clauses in our contracts that allude to some sort of participation in its creation, but the reality is, your job as an author, at least in regard to the cover, is to simply say, “Thank you.”

Scary, right? After all the work you’ve done to make your work stand out in the world, the one thing that most readers will look to that distinguishes it from all other works is totally out of your control.

In many ways, this is an arranged marriage.

I keep assuring myself that we were meant to be together, my cover and I. That we have the same interests. That we’ll be together, happily ever after. That our future is bright.

Because, make no mistake. This is Ever After. FOREVER after. 

But what if I’m not attracted to it?

What if it’s ugly?

What if it snores in bed or hangs the toilet paper backwards?

Could you live with a troubled marriage like that? Well, you’ll kinda have to.

Frightening thoughts. Bad covers happen, though, despite best intentions. So stressing about them is well within your right as an author.

In the end, it boils down to trust. Trust the process. Trust that your agent knows you, knows your manuscript, and knows that the editor he or she submitted to, and the publishing house that offered, has a solid record of manufacturing beautiful covers. It's really all you can do. 

But go easy on the anxiety.

Because beautiful covers happen, too.

S. L. Duncan writes young adult fiction, including his debut, The Revelation of Gabriel Adam, due in 2014 from Medallion Press. You can find him blogging on and on Twitter.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The First-World Problems of A Published Writer, Part One

by Mindy McGinnis

My life is awesome, don't get me wrong.

When I was mired in the foxhole of query hell dodging rejection bullets while trying to reload with a better, more awesome query, I looked at published authors as people with no problems. Or at least, their problems were nothing in comparison to mine.

And I still think this is true. But...

Published authors have our own set of issues—marketing plans we don't agree with (Hey, at least you have marketing that you're not funding yourself!), a cover we hate (Um, an art department made your cover, not your cousin with her outdated Photoshop software!), a title change (Really? Because if a pub house wanted me I'd change my title to This Book Sucks & The Author is Ugly), or thematic battles with your editor (Hello!??! At least you have an editor!). 

And to be very clear, in case any of the fabulous people at Katherine Tegen are reading this (I love them all, along with every cell right down to its nucleus in every one of their bodies), these issues are not my issues. I'm culling these examples from years of conversations with other writers.

But the problems I want to talk to you about today are the everyday problems, little misunderstandings that crop up with people who don't understand the publishing industry—and you shouldn't expect them to. In fact, I won't even call them problems because they aren't. They're blips on the screen that have occurred enough times that you feel like it's a problem, like an eye twitch that happens one too many times in the afternoon. What's the remedy? Remind yourself to be grateful you have eyes and move on.


1) Where can I buy your book?—Well, a bookstore is a good start. Just saying. Or this magical thing called the internet. Don't say that. Yes, they might be the 1000th person to ask you that—and essentially it might feel like a silly question—but it's not their fault they weren't the first person to ask you back when you had patience. If they're the 1000th person to ask—and you answer politely 1000 times—you might sell 1000 books.

2) How much is your book?—This depends entirely on who is selling it. Seriously. Amazon is selling it cheaper than Barnes & Noble, and both of them are selling it more cheaply than the local Indie. It all relates to the magical Amazon algorithm and overstock and price gouging but Indies count on support and... oh wait, this person doesn't care about the politics behind everything. Just answer the question with the jacket price. If this launches them into a long story about how they found it cheaper on eBay, fantastic. Listen to it.

3) Can I buy it from you? - Technically, no. In order to do that I have to have a vendor's license and charge tax and declare it as income. Also, I don't carry my books around in my trunk like I'm selling roses on the corner or meat out of coolers. If fact, this is one of the major reasons why I went the traditional publishing route—I don't want to handle sales myself. Again, just answer the question. They want to buy the story that's published, not the long boring one you're telling in response to a simple inquiry.

4) Hey, I wrote a book too! Will you read it?—Here's the thing, 200 million Americans have written / are writing / want to write a book. Chances are you know a few of them, and if you don't already they are going to seek you out. The quick answer is no, however it's also a fairly rude answer that will make people think you are too big for your britches now that you're a fancy-pants published writer. Definitely say the no part, but say it nicely and with encouragement, along with a list of writing blogs, sites like AgentQuery Connect, and suggestions on how to find a critique partner more suited to where they are in the journey. You might be passing on a chance to usher in the next Margaret Atwood, but that's not your job. Your job is to write, and you can't do that when you're mentoring someone else.

5) My cousin in Tucson bought your book! How did you get it in bookstores out there?—Yeah. Here's the thing, the general public doesn't know the difference between self-publishing and traditional publishing. Remember, 200 million Americans want to get published and they now have the opportunity to do exactly that (and more power to them). So those authors are selling their books themselves, they are hand delivering their stock to bookstores, and this is the average person's concept of how books get "out there" now that they probably know someone who is doing exactly this. Your publisher did all this for you, and you sank a third of your lifetime into getting the deal that made that possible. Explaining this will make you sound elitist, even if you're not. So what's the best answer? The simple one: my publisher. Period.

These are some of the tiny, silly, nagging little problems of a published author. It's not the questions, it's the repetition. And there are days when none of these are asked, followed by days where I get all five multiple times each and I want to drink bleach just to see how it makes my intestines smell.

Then I say to myself, "Mindy—you get paid to make up stories about things that didn't happen to people that don't exist. Shut up."

Mindy McGinnis is a YA author and librarian. Her debut, NOT A DROP TO DRINK, is a post-apocalyptic survival tale set in a world where freshwater is almost non-existent, available from Katherine Tegen / Harper Collins. She blogs at Writer, Writer Pants on Fire and contributes to the group blogs Book PregnantFriday the ThirteenersFrom the Write AngleThe Class of 2k13The Lucky 13s & The League of Extraordinary Writers. You can also find her on TwitterTumblr & Facebook.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Cruelty in Critique

by Charlee Vale

In September of 2012 I turned in the first draft of the play that would become my master's thesis in to my advisor, and I also gave copies to my two thesis partners so that they could read and have an idea how my part of the project was coming along.

The first words out of my advisor's mouth in that meeting was forbidding my partners to say anything about the play to me. It didn't matter if they loved it, hated it, or had constructive criticism. Not one. Single. Word.

In retrospect, this is the best thing he ever could have done for me. When someone says something about your work—especially in it's infancy—it can creep inside you like a little time bomb, and you'll never feel the same.

Recently I wrote a post called 'More Than Words,' which discusses the innate power that words have. Along the same line, this is a little discussion of that same topic, but in regards to critique.

I wanted to write this post because recently I've noticed a trend on public critique websites which I frequent. That trend is people using cruelty in their critique. People being mean-spirited and rude and disguising it in 'I just want to help! An agent is going to do the same thing!'

Well, no. First of all, the odds of an agent being cruel of rude to you regarding your work is minimal. They want your work to be good. So why would they go out of their way to be mean about it, when the writing can be fixed with practice and experience? They won't. Agents are busy people, they have better things to do.

Secondly, Being rude to someone in a critique is not constructive. It is DEstructive. We writers are putting ourselves out there when we ask for critique. You're baring a little piece of your soul, and because of that cruel words have a tendency to cut us deeper than we'll let on.

Imagine you put your query up for critique, and the first feedback you get is: "I can't believe you started with this. That is SO cliche. I basically stopped reading here, and I bet an agent is going to do the same thing."* —I'm guessing that not only would you shut down from hearing good advice, but also not want to put up anything for critique ever again, and possibly want to stop writing.

Keeping with the example, if someone does start with a cliche, maybe try a different approach. "Hey, I've heard that agents get a lot of these openings. Is there maybe somewhere else you can start your story so you stand out more?" —A response like this not only preserves the writer's dignity, but allows them to approach the solution with an open mind because you're allowing them to come up with it.

I'm not saying that you should sugar coat things, or not tell people what they need to hear, but phrasing can make a world of difference, and could be the difference between a learning moment and a meltdown.

So critique on, and use the golden rule: Don't say anything to anyone you wouldn't want someone to say to you.

*Example Hypothetical

Charlee Vale is a Young Adult writer, agency intern, photographer, and tea lover living in New York City. You can also find her at her website, and on Twitter, and using the golden rule.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Are You Ready to NaNo?

by MarcyKate Connolly

If you follow me on Twitter, you’ve probably heard me whine, er, mention how excited I am to start a new project for NaNoWriMo. If you’re not in the know, NaNoWriMo is a gloriously crazy challenge to write a 50K novel in the span of one month. It happens each November, and for me and countless others it’s something to dive into with gusto.

But like any challenge, it’s often best to go into it prepared. Everyone has their own way of getting ready, but I thought I’d share mine.

1) Brainstorm the Plot. Generally, this requires a lot of sitting and staring into space, then occasionally noting random twists or things that could happen. I am an unabashed plotter, but I suspect even those who prefer to pants their stories benefit from jotting down a few possible directions the story could go.

2) Write a faux query. I realize this tip may strike fear in the hearts of many given it’s an unfortunate, yet evil necessity (though not as evil as the equally necessary synopsis).  This doesn’t have to be a full length query, really it’s just a brief summary of the inciting incident and the basic problem of the book. Even just a one liner will do. This serves to remind me why I was so excited about the story in the first place when I start to struggle and it helps me stay on point.

3) MOAR PLOTTING. This can take a variety of shapes, and I know plenty of pantsers who prefer not to do this at all (which is completely fine and normal. Everyone’s process is unique!), but it’s probably my favorite part. I like to use the Save The Cat Beat sheet to help me determine how those ideas I brainstormed earlier will fall into which beats.

4) Cheat, and write a little bit now. I can’t help it. If I’m excited about a story, I’m going to want to write part of it. Usually the voice is in my head, begging to get out and play on the page for a bit. Why not just give in? You’ll only count the words you write starting November 1 toward NaNoWriMo, but a little head start like this can be pivotal in connecting to your character’s voice and mindset.

How about you? Will you be joining us for the fine frenzy in November? Please feel free to add your own Nano preparation tips in the comments! 

MarcyKate Connolly writes middle grade and young adult fiction and becomes a superhero when sufficiently caffeinated. When earthbound, she blogs at her website and spends far too much time babbling on Twitter. Her debut upper MG fantasy novel, MONSTROUS, will be out from HarperCollins Children's Books in Winter 2015.

Friday, October 18, 2013

The Daily Grind

by Matt Sinclair

It’s become a basic truism that we all lead busy lives. Many of us struggle to eke out what writing time we can out of a day. I consider myself lucky to have a half hour or so on the train to read, write, edit, and organize my writing life. In fact, as I’m typing this blog the train is exiting the tunnel and about to cross a river. At times reminiscent of the opening sequence of The Sopranos, but it’s home…

Unless we're careful, it’s easy to get distracted from our writing routine. Sometimes that’s fine, as a writing mind is an exploring mind, and I don’t want to stunt anyone’s imagination. But at the same time, writers need to be able to focus and use their time wisely. A routine might seem like drudgery to some, but to others it's the only way things get done.

Perhaps the easiest way to approach that discipline is to write down things on a calendar and keep notes. But when there's so much going on, notes aren’t always enough. And as the old cliché goes, there are only so many hours in a day.

The future will only bring more change – some we must anticipate and some to which we must adapt quickly. I’m curious: how do you manage your time? Here at FTWA, we’ve posted a few blogs about whether we’re pantsers or planners when it comes to our writing. But what about when it comes to our lives?

Are we pantsers about when we write? I know lots of writers who plan to write a thousand words every day – usually to varying levels of success. But do you vary when you do that? Do you write in increments and squeeze fifteen minutes of writing here and another ten later and maybe a half hour just before or just after bed? Has that changed for you over the years?

Do you have specific days when you write? How easy or hard is it to get through your writing days? I know many writers aren’t able or don’t feel compelled to write every day. Trust me, I get it.

But do you know when you write your best? Are you able to optimize your peak writing moments?

What do you guys think? How do you approach that daily (or not quite daily) grind?

Matt Sinclair, a New York City-based journalist and fiction writer, is also president and chief elephant officer of Elephant's Bookshelf Press, which recently published Summer's Edge and Summer's Double Edge, which are available through Smashwords (SE) (SDE) and Amazon (SE) (SDE), and include stories from several FTWA writers. In 2012, EBP published its initial anthologies: The Fall: Tales from the Apocalypse, (available viaAmazon and Smashwords) and Spring Fevers (also available through Smashwords, andAmazon). Matt blogs at the Elephant's Bookshelf and is on Twitter @elephantguy68.

Monday, October 14, 2013

3 Query No Nos

by Jemi Fraser

I haven't talked about queries for a while here, so I thought I'd jump back in the pool with 3 things I've found DON'T work.

No No #1

Describing your story.

The Fellowship of the Ring is an epic adventure set in Middle Earth-a land of hobbits, wizards, elves and dwarfs. When an unlikely hero inherits an heirloom of awesome power he sets out to destroy it. Along the way he discovers life is more than second breakfasts and friendship is the most powerful weapon of all.


LotR is one of my favourite stories - definitely NOT yawn worthy! Don't tell your story, show it. Start with your main character and the trouble he/she faces. Draw us in!

No No #2

Character soup.

When Jonah Williams discovers a talking salamander named Leopold, he can't decide if he's losing his mind or about to make a fortune. When Leopold decides Starlight, the pet frog of Jonah's nemesis Charlie is his true love, Jonah needs to act quickly. Enlisting best friends Shari and Kyle, Jonah concocts a plan sure to not only bring him fame and fortune, but keep Leopold a single salamander heartthrob forever.


Okay, obviously that one's made up and way over the top, but limit yourself to the bare minimum when naming characters in a query. The main character (or characters if it's a romance) and the villain are the most important. If someone else is mentioned, try to stick to an identifier instead (his mother, her publicist, the police officer...).

No No #3

Sucking up.

From reading your fabulous and helpful blog, I know you're interested in Mermaid Gothic Romances. I want to thank you for taking the time to help new writers like myself. Working with you would be an incredible opportunity and I hope you feel Fin's Castle would fit your wonderful list.
*shudder* No one likes a suck up. Keep it real and honest. Be yourself.

Hope those help you out a bit! Do you have another Query No No to add?

Jemi Fraser is an aspiring author of contemporary romance. She blogs and tweets while searching for those HEAs.

Friday, October 11, 2013


by Riley Redgate

Recently, I took a break from the internet. For forty-five days, I did not venture into the realms of Facebook, Tumblr, or Twitter. Not even Google. The only things I used were sites like Moodle, SaplingLearning, and Gmail, which were necessary for me to not fail classes.

It had an interesting effect on my writing. Initially, I thought that since I'd have so much new free time, time that I used to spend on the internet, I'd spend that much more time on writing. Instead, though, I found myself avoiding the computer altogether. It helped that school started back up and provided a multitude of distractions, of course, but still. Once I was unplugged, I wanted to stay unplugged.

Still, though, unplugging provided some vital help to my writing, even if that wasn't exemplified by my pathetically flagging word count. Here's a list of benefits:

1) I spent that much more time reading. In the month and a half I was gone, I read six excellent books, from Neil Gaiman's slight and fantastical The Ocean at the End of the Lane to Haruki Murakami's fantastical but not-at-all-slight 1Q84. Imagine if, every time you read a post on Facebook, you were reading a novel instead. How many books would that give you?

2) I spent that much more time around humans, as opposed to staring into the depths of my computer. Unplugging from a constant source of interpersonal information means seeing less of the minutiae of my friends' lives; instead, I saw more of a big picture, because I spent more real time with them. I also made more connections. It's so easy to lurk on social media and feel like you're "getting to know someone" just by reading information they post on the internet. But if you're a chronic lurker, like me, they likely have no idea you're there and reading it, which means the connection is one-sided. Writing-wise -- as much as I love internet connections and talking to people online -- sharing experiences in real-time is helpful in a whole different way.

3) I spent that much more time with my own style of writing. The internet is a fascinating place -- it has developed a whole new type of communication. Everything is abbreviated. Everything is designed to be as eye-catching as possible in the shortest amount of time, which includes news pieces and other articles (Buzzfeed, for instance). Some speech patterns of the internet are downright incomprehensible (Tumblr, I'm looking at you). Getting away from the frenetic, everything-at-once, short-attention-span mode of communication that exists online ... it feels like everything slows down. Not to mention that there are these catchphrases you see online over and over, a collective internet slang. As with any slang and verbal shorthand, it infiltrates your writing, affecting it in whatever small way. Disconnecting from it helped me write more purely, write a higher proportion of words that came out of my brain, rather than words that happened to be buzzing around my skull because I saw the phrase a million times online that day.

4) I broke my dependence on the internet. With the prevalence of social media, people sometimes seem to forget that the internet is, at its heart, a tool. It is not the place to have one's entire life. Some days, over the summer, I would spend ten or eleven hours on the internet, jumping from site to site. Totally unhealthy. And sure, some of it was writing research, or getting to know someone, but most of it was not. Unplugging helped me get some perspective on what portion of my internet usage was actually necessary, and what was just a distraction from things that matter more to me.

Have you tried quitting the internet? Taking a break for an extended period of time? If so, what did you discover?

Riley Redgate, enthusiast of all things YA, is a bookstore-and-Starbucks-dweller from North Carolina attending college in Ohio. She is represented by Caryn Wiseman of Andrea Brown Literary Agency. Sporadically and with occasional weirdness, she blogs here and speaks with considerably more brevity here.